Is Ryanair right to be optimistic about passenger numbers?

Aviation industry needs help from vaccine programmes and traffic light system

Covid-19 travel bans may have grounded many of Ryanair’s planes over the past year, but they don’t appear to have dented its ambitions.

On Wednesday the Irish airline, Europe’s largest, said that it expected losses in this financial year, which ends on March 31st, 2022, to be €800 million-€850 million, rather than the €850 million-€950 million it had previously guided.

It still believes that it could fly 80 million-120 million passengers over the next 12 months, but says that the final figure could be at the lower end of that range.

Ryanair blamed lockdowns through Easter and the slow rate at which EU states were vaccinating citizens for the likelihood that passengers would be closer to 80 million than 120 million.

Even so, that would mark a big step up from the 27.5 million people who flew with the airline in the financial year that ended on March 31st. The lower end of the range would be three times that total.

Ryanair won’t have any difficulty providing the planes, pilots and crew to fly these people. The problem is with something beyond its control: vaccination programmes. These are progressing far more slowly than ideal both here and throughout the EU.

They are central to suppressing the disease and allowing countries in the bloc to reopen. Like all EU residents, Ryanair is a prisoner of how fast we get those injections.

There are signs of progress, but even so, Brussels appears to have ditched the target of vaccinating at least seven out of 10 EU residents by the end of June.

But the EU has revived and updated its traffic light system, which ranks regions according to their risk of infection. This, and allowing those with proof of vaccination or immunity to travel, could lend some extra momentum to aviation’s much-needed revival.

Diarmuid Ó Conghaile, the Republic's recently appointed Aviation Regulator, last night called for its reintroduction here. Given the Government's late, limited and grudging adoption of it first time around, that is unlikely. Nevertheless, it should aid reopening elsewhere, which can only help Ryanair and other carriers.